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This is for all the people who don't have a LinkedIn account and couldn't care less about getting one. I used to think like you too. I've never cared much about staying up-to-date with popular hi-tech trends (still don't have a smartphone). But I do have a Facebook profile to help keep tabs on my friends and family. So why bother adding something else to check, update, "like," and ultimately eat up more time in my already very busy day?

Well, about a month ago I finally cracked and signed up. And it turns out I was wrong about everything. Here's why:

1) LinkedIn is user-friendly. You don't have to be tech-savvy to use it.

2) Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is not for play. It's a tool that has many uses for current and aspiring professionals.

3) People who are busier and more important than me use it all the time.

I'm not sharing my discoveries to promote LinkedIn and bring more traffic to the website. Trust me, LinkedIn doesn't need any help from me. Rather, LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool that can help you--whether you're a job-seeker, an entry-level worker, or a CEO--build your professional presence and learn about new opportunities. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, it's time to learn from my mistakes and develop one. I'll be spending this blog article and my next one explaining first, why you should get a LinkedIn profile, and then, second, how to use one to your best advantage.

First of all, what is LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is a professional networking website. Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn requires you to build a profile that emphasizes your skills and experiences, and it allows you to maintain a list of contacts (called "connections," not "friends"). However, LinkedIn should not be used for socializing. It's a career tool you can use to promote the best version of your professional self.

Why should you use it?

1) Employment Opportunities

LinkedIn users have access to job postings unavailable elsewhere. Across the top of your profile (or any page of LinkedIn), you will see a "Jobs" option. (Click on the image of my profile below to view it close up.)

jobspic

When you click on "Jobs," the website will direct you to a search bar where you can search for open positions according to title, keywords or company name. You can also click on "Advanced Search" and narrow the job postings even further by salary range, type of industry, location, experience level, etc.

advancedsearch

advancedsearch2

Importantly, recruiters and employers use LinkedIn as a way to search for potential job candidates. If you're a job-seeker and you don't have a LinkedIn profile, consider it a priority and develop one. Not only will you gain a good source for job openings, but you can also apply for the jobs directly through LinkedIn.

2) Make Connections

Once you have a profile, you can "invite" any LinkedIn user to be a connection. After the recipient accepts your invitation, he or she is now a 1st-degree connection in your LinkedIn "network." In total, your network is comprised of your 1st-degree connections, 2nd-degree connections (people connected to your connections), 3rd-degree connections (people connected to your 2nd-degree connections)  and fellow members of your LinkedIn Groups. The sidebar of your homepage will tell you how many connections you have and how many people are in your network. Here's what my network update looks like:

connections

As you gain more connections your network grows, and according to the LinkedIn Help Center, so does your potential for new business and career opportunities. For example, if you're looking for a career change, you can connect with people in your industry of interest. Initiate a conversation with them, learn about their work and find out if their field would be a good fit for you. By doing this, you will build a contact base of people who could assist you in your future career. You could even learn of a job opening.

Caution:

In the early days of LinkedIn, it was only considered appropriate to invite someone you knew personally, a client, or a professional acquaintance to be a connection. Nowadays, it's acceptable to invite individuals you don't know as long as both of you share a common professional interest. Just make sure you explain why you want to connect with them in the note section of the invite before you send it. Otherwise, the recipients will question why they should accept, and might even block you. If you're a new LinkedIn user, I recommend you take the approach Carol Shultz writes about in her ere.net article, and go for quality in your connections over quantity.

3) Access to Information

LinkedIn users have access to valuable information. If you're a job-seeker, you can research companies of interest and view the profiles of people who work there. This will give you a good idea of what kinds of skills and experiences the employees have and what the company wants in a new hire. Also, if you have an important interview lined up, researching the companies and the employees is essential for performing well in the interview. LinkedIn makes this easy.

Here's how you do it. Let's say I'm interested in a job with Verizon. All I have to do is type "Verizon" into the main search bar at the top of any LinkedIn page, and click on the company name to view the profile.

verizon

Each company profile you view may look a little different, but in general they share the same information. On Verizon's profile I can click "Home" to read about the company, "Careers" to see what jobs are available and "Services" to learn about their products. In the sidebar on a company's homepage, you'll also see an option that says "Employees on LinkedIn." Click on it if you want to learn about the employees who work there.

Convinced yet?  You should be! If you're a job-seeker you should be running, not walking, to the nearest computer to start your profile now. If you think a LinkedIn profile is a good idea, but feel hesitant about setting it up--don't sweat it. Part 2 of this blog series is coming your way soon, and I'll walk you through, step-by-step, how to set up a dynamic profile.